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Ranked! The top 20 most expensive transfers ever

Neymar
(Image credit: PSG)

The valuations of football players have skyrocketed in recent years, with transfers of elite players each year now requiring eye-watering sums that would’ve been unimaginable even 10 years ago. 

Only two of the following top 20 most expensive transfers ever took place longer ago than 2016, and half of the deals were struck in the last three years. 

Some housekeeping before we get started; these figures reflect the initial fee, not the potential total value, and they’re listed by their value in pounds sterling at the time the transfer took place. 

20. Nicolas Pepe (Lille to Arsenal, £72m, 2019)

Most expensive British signing

(Image credit: Getty)

 Arsenal’s club-record signing was the fourth-most expensive Premier League signing ever when he landed at the Emirates in the summer of 2019 from Lille

But the 26-year-old is yet to find the level of consistency he showed in France, and he has one league goal to his name this season, having made just five starts. 

19.  Jadon Sancho (Borussia Dortmund to Manchester United, £73m, 2021) 

Sancho

(Image credit: Getty)

Sancho finally signed on the dotted line at Old Trafford last summer after endless speculation, becoming the second-most expensive Englishman of all time behind new team-mate Harry Maguire - until Jack Grealish bumped him down the list two weeks later. 

The youngster’s electric form in Germany saw his valuation fly upwards, but his debut season in Manchester has been a difficult one and he’s another player who will be hoping to flourish when Erik ten Hag takes the reins next season. 

19. Romelu Lukaku (Manchester United to Inter Milan, £74m, 2019) 

Romelu Lukaku

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Lukaku’s move to Italy in 2019 is remarkably one of three entries for the Belgian in this top-20 list. 

He joined Antonio Conte’s side after two years at Old Trafford and excelled in Serie A, winning the title in his second season to earn an ever bigger-money move back to his former club Chelsea

17. Virgil van Dijk (Southampton to Liverpool, £75m, 2018) 

Virgil van Dijk

(Image credit: Getty)

Eyebrows were raised and scoffs were uttered when Liverpool made Virgil van Dijk the world’s most expensive defender midway through the 2017/18 season. 

How wrong the doubters were. The Dutchman’s arrival is now widely viewed as one of the catalysts of Liverpool’s Champions League and Premier League triumphs, and one of the finest signings the club has made in the Jurgen Klopp era. 

16. Romelu Lukaku (Everton to Manchester United, £75m, 2017) 

Lukaku

(Image credit: Getty)

United pipped Chelsea to the signing of Lukaku in 2017 after the Belgian’s Everton form made him one of the most sought-after strikers in the Premier League.

Lukaku spent two seasons at Old Trafford, scoring 28 goals, before joining Inter Milan for an almost identical fee. 

15. Gonzalo Higuain (Napoli to Juventus, £75.3m, 2016) 

Gonzalo Higuain

(Image credit: Getty)

Higuain has never been forgiven in Naples for his move to their most bitter rivals, especially as the then-Serie A record transfer came in the wake of the Argentina international scoring a league record 36-goal haul as Napoli finished second behind Juve.

The striker never quite hit those heights in Turin, despite having two goal-filled campaigns after arriving, and he departed for Inter Miami in 2020 after loans with AC Milan and Chelsea.

14. Harry Maguire (Leicester to Manchester United, £80m, 2019) 

Harry Maguire

(Image credit: PA)

Maguire’s price tag has often been used as a stick to beat him with during periods of poor form, as the England international was - and remains - the most expensive defender of all time. 

The centre-back took over the United captaincy in January 2020, but his wait for a maiden trophy with the Red Devils goes on. 

13. Cristiano Ronaldo (Manchester United to Real Madrid, £80m, 2009) 

Ronaldo

(Image credit: PA)

The best dosh Real Madrid have ever spent? Probably. Ronaldo’s move did require a world-record fee at the time, but the Spanish side got value for money - and then some.

Ronaldo departed in 2018 as the club’s all-time top scorer, a five-time Ballon d’Or winner and with four Champions League titles and two La Liga crowns to his name. 

12. Gareth Bale (Tottenham to Real Madrid, £85.3m, 2013) 

Gareth Bale

(Image credit: PA)

Bale’s move to Madrid broke the world record transfer fee at the time, surpassing Ronaldo’s switch to the Spanish capital four years earlier. 

Although the Welshman’s relationship with the club has soured in recent seasons, he has scored some huge goals for the La Liga giants, including *that* overhead kick in the Champions League final victory over Liverpool in 2018 - one of four European crowns he has won with Madrid. 

11. Cristiano Ronaldo (Real Madrid to Juventus, £88m, 2018) 

Cristiano Ronaldo Juventus

(Image credit: PA)

 Him again! Ronaldo’s second move was his more expensive one, and certainly his more shocking one. The football world gasped when Real Madrid’s all-time top scorer suddenly sealed an unexpected move to Turin in 2018 for a club-record fee. 

Ronaldo won two Serie A titles in three years in Italy, before returning to United last summer after a declining Juve side narrowly scraped to a fourth-placed finish under Andrea Pirlo.

10. Eden Hazard (Chelsea to Real Madrid, £89m, 2019) 

Eden Hazard

(Image credit: PA)

Real forked out an initial £89m to prise Hazard from Chelsea’s grasp three years ago, but the deal agreed had a potential total cost exceeding a whopping £150m.

How they have regretted that decision. The Belgian hasn’t been able to replicate his dazzling Blues form in Madrid and fitness issues have plagued his time there, with the 31-year-old mustering just six goals so far for the Merengues. 

9. Paul Pogba (Juventus to Manchester United, £89m, 2016) 

Paul Pogba

(Image credit: PA)

United splashed out a then-world record fee to bring Pogba back to Old Trafford from Juventus in 2016, four years after departing Manchester for just £1.5m.

Things haven’t quite worked out as Jose Mourinho hoped they would when the signing was first announced. The Portuguese boss said Pogba could be “the heart of the club” for a decade, but the Frenchman has struggled to find consistent form and now looks to be heading out when his contract expires in the summer. 

8. Ousmane Dembele (Borussia Dortmund to Barcelona, £96.8m, 2017) 

Ousmane Dembele

(Image credit: PA)

 Dembele’s move often features much higher up these lists, but we are going off the £96.8m initial fee Barca paid for the French winger, rather than the potential total value of £135.5m that would propel him up the rankings.

The forward earned his Camp Nou move on the back of his excellent form in Germany, but he has struggled for form in Spain until hitting a hot streak in recent months under Xavi’s guidance. 

7. Romelu Lukaku (Inter Milan to Chelsea, £97.5m, 2021) 

Romelu Lukaku

(Image credit: Getty)

Lukaku re-joined Chelsea for a massive fee last summer after two superb years in Italy with Inter Milan, but the Belgian has struggled to live up to the price tag thus far. 

The £97.5m fee fell just short of the British transfer record, but made the striker the player with the largest total transfer value of all time, as a combined £290m has been spent on him by various clubs over the years. 

6. Jack Grealish (Aston Villa to Manchester City, £100m, 2021) 

Jack Grealish Manchester City

(Image credit: Getty, Matt McNulty)

Grealish’s £100m move from Aston Villa to City last summer was a British transfer record, surpassing the £89m deal that took Paul Pogba to Man United in 2016.

He also became the most expensive English player ever, knocking Harry Maguire off the top of the list two years after his England team-mate’s move to Old Trafford. 

5. Philippe Coutinho (Liverpool to Barcelona, £105m, 2018) 

Philippe Coutinho

(Image credit: PA)

Coutinho’s signing was another spectacular moment of transfer market misjudgment from Barcelona, which ultimately contributed to the crippling financial problems that saw Lionel Messi leave last summer.  

The deal for the Brazilian playmaker, who swapped Catalunya for Aston Villa on loan in January, is often ranked as the third-biggest deal ever, as the total figure reached £142m through add-ons.

4. Antoine Griezmann (Atletico Madrid to Barcelona, £107m, 2019) 

Antoine Griezmann

(Image credit: PA)

Barca met Griezmann’s hefty buyout clause in the summer of 2019 after a long-running transfer saga, but it proved to be something of an expensive mistake. 

The France forward spent just two seasons at Camp Nou before returning to Atleti on loan last summer in a deal that included an obligation to buy for €40m (around £34m). 

3. Joao Felix (Benfica to Atletico Madrid, £112.9m, 2019) 

Joao Felix

(Image credit: PA)

 Atleti’s massive outlay on the relatively untested Portuguese prospect took some by surprise in July 2019, but the Spaniards had faith that they would get bang for their buck in the long run.

Felix’s move is the fifth-most expensive historically overall, behind the Dembele and Coutinho deals, but the initial fee agreed was the third-biggest in history. 

2. Kylian Mbappe (Monaco to PSG, £163m, 2018) 

FIFA 22

(Image credit: EA Sports)

Mbappe’s move from Monaco was made permanent in the summer of 2018, when the teenage striker was fresh off winning the World Cup with France. 

It followed quickly in the footsteps of the Qatar-backed club’s staggering signing of Neymar, with the one-year loan spell prior to the permanent transfer being an apparent effort to comply with Financial Fair Play rules.

1. Neymar (Barcelona to PSG, £198m, 2017) 

Neymar PSG

(Image credit: PA)

PSG’s jaw-dropping deal for Neymar in 2017 wasn’t just the biggest financial flex their Qatari owners have ever made, but a moment that changed the transfer market forever. 

The notion that a footballer could be worth £198m (€222m), at a time when the previous world record stood at £89m, altered the way that clubs valued their players and paved the way for another five deals (so far) involving nine-figure sums.  

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Alasdair Mackenzie is a freelance journalist based in Rome, and a FourFourTwo contributor since 2015. When not pulling on the FFT shirt, he can be found at Reuters, The Times and the i. An Italophile since growing up on a diet of Football Italia on Channel 4, he now counts himself among thousands of fans sharing a passion for Ross County and Lazio.